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Lightworks film festival to celebrate student-produced cinema

By Giancarlo Buonomo, Daily Arts Writer
Published December 11, 2013

The semester is winding down, and all around, students are finishing up their final projects. For students in the Screen Arts & Cultures Department, they too have a final assignment, but it will go beyond handing in a paper to professors. This weekend, the Film and Video Student Association will host the biannual Lightworks Student Film Festival (FVSA), which screens films produced by SAC students in their production courses.

The SAC Department allows students to produce films in many different genres, which is sure to lead to an eclectic line-up for the film festival. To highlight diversity, the FVSA doesn’t organize the films into blocks by genre.

“In recent years, we’ve started to mix it up, so you’ll have a documentary, an animation and a dramatic film in one block,” said LSA senior and FVSA board member Ross Warman.

Most of the films are shot using digital video, except for the experimental film course, which still shoots on physical film. Many directors and critics, including Christopher Nolan of “The Dark Knight,” believe film provides a quality that video can’t replicate.

“Technology is increasingly closing that gap, but there’s a lot to be said for film. It definitely has a specific quality to it — just the amount of information you can get on the actual, physical piece of film is incredible,” Warman said.

Be it on film or video, SAC students have plenty of work to show. There are around 12 production courses each semester, and each class is usually split into groups, each of which makes multiple films over the course of the semester. SAC students might produce upward of 60 films in one semester, ranging from two-minute animations to complete television episodes.

SAC is a unique department because, in addition to its courses on film history and theory, it allows its students to produce creative work. Students might start out making short films that they and their group members act in, but then progress to longer and more complex films. The pinnacle of production is SAC 423, where students studying directing, screenwriting and acting all collaborate to make a 20- to 30-minute film with substantial production values.

“Whenever we have those, it’s a big deal,” Warman said. “It’s just a massive undertaking, and they automatically go to the Traverse City Film Festival; we’ve got the only two reserved spots in that.”

SAC 423 produces professional quality films because it allows students concentrating in specific aspects of film to contribute their specific expertise.

“The scripts for those are taken from the screenwriting sub-concentration, so that the people who are at the highest level of the screenwriting concentration have their scripts turned into the highest level of film production,” Warman said.

In addition, the actors are usually culled from the School of Music, Theatre & Dance, and production designers from the Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design.

“It’s great to have that cross-college interaction,” Warman said.

SAC 423 is only offered in the winter, so those films will only be shown in next semester’s Lightworks Festival. But 423 is not the only course that produces high quality cinema. In SAC 300, students are still responsible for writing the script, casting actors and even raising money to fund production costs. The results are often beyond what one might expect from student filmmakers.

Among many past projects, there is a six-minute piece from the fall of 2006 entitled “Where’s Dinner?”. This highly imaginative, black-and-white film is best described as a mash-up of “Alice and Wonderland” and “I Love Lucy.” In it, a husband and wife decide to roast a turkey, only to have the (surprisingly nimble) raw bird escape out of the back of the oven, which is a portal to an Eden-like garden. Other examples can be found on the FVSA’s YouTube channel.